It’s an obvious and almost redundant thought that comes up every time a person spends time in the back country wilderness. What was it like to live here when the 70 miles of jolting road leading to the trailhead didn’t exist? Who first found this out-of-the-way paradise, and how did they manage? At first glance it’s clear that it wasn’t four wheel drive and GPS that helped settle this country, but what was it? And what would happen if you took a modern “pioneer” and subtracted a hundred or four hundred years off of the ol’ historical calendar? Could an average GPS and heated MRE weekend warrior survive in a true frontier environment? How about a long distance hiker with freeze dried, lightweight meals and titanium walking sticks? Imagine if we took away the truck or the “all wheel drive” sport vehicle and all the roads say east of the Mississippi. How does the modern outdoor adventurer fare?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that after the initial culture shock of finding no latte stand or grocery store, many of your modern outdoor enthusiasts would survive and even thrive in a wilderness situation. Many of us know over urbanized people that would be unlikely to survive even a week in the wilderness, but even many of them though could get through. The trick is to get from the panic mode to the clear thinking mode. Brainpower is what has enabled us to thrive in the concrete jungles, and when it comes around to it, it’s how we built the jungle brick by brick out of the wilderness.
Back to the original thought though, what was it like living before there was a town within a day’s journey and modern conveniences? I bet life was a lot simpler and had a much slower pace. Coming into a new country required stamina, creativity and a mindset to provide for the very basics: food, shelter and where you could find food and shelter next week and thereafter. One of the basic differences of the nomadic lifestyle is that food and game couldn’t be reliably found in one location for all four seasons. Food that you forage is seasonal and food that you hunt grows wise or gets depleted. When food got scarce, you had to deplete your stores and move in search of the next food source.
The early movers and shakers were often hunters and explorers pushed by curiosity or just a love of hunting to wander further and further afield. They wanted to see things that others hadn’t seen yet, and to eventually provide a better life for their family. It’s the same drive that pushes us to explore the back roads, the mountains and the oceans in pursuit of fish and game today. We may use trucks, boats and tools to make our way, but we still strive to explore the outdoors on a personal level. The drive to discover new valleys, new GPS points or find the tuna in an offshore boat is the same as it was before. Freedom from the urgency to find the basics have led us to many “advancements,” however the pioneer spirit is alive and well in the hearts and minds of the modern outdoorsman.